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Why Latto is Ruling Radio With ‘Big Energy’

Billboard Executive of the Week Keith Rothschild, RCA's co-head of promotion, explains the rapper's winning strategy.

Amid a year that has, in the early going, been dominated by Disney soundtracks and established hits, one artist who has managed to cut through with a big breakout smash is Latto, with her record “Big Energy” conquering format after format at radio in recent months. The track reached the top of the Rhythmic Airplay, Rap Airplay and now Pop Airplay charts, where it sits this week at No. 1 for the second straight week, making her the first female rapper to top that trio of charts with a single track. “Big Energy” has also gotten a boost at Hot AC following the official remix featuring Mariah Carey, suggesting that the song has even more legs moving forward.

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Latto’s major breakthrough has underscored a larger run of success at radio for RCA, where SZA, Doja Cat and Chris Brown have been all over the airwaves this year. In fact, last month those four artists held the top four slots at Rhythmic Airplay at the same time, marking the first time in a decade that one label has accomplished that feat. All that success has helped earn RCA’s co-head of promotion Keith Rothschild the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.

With the continued success of Latto’s “Big Energy” and its crossover to the top of the pop charts, Rothschild breaks down the strategy behind the song’s climb over the past six months, working with fellow co-head of promotion Sam Selolwane at various formats, the strength of RCA’s rhythmic leads and why sometimes taking the slow and steady approach provides the best possible outcome. “You just have to make sure everyone, from artists to managers to our radio partners, knows the game plan,” he says, “especially when working with a song that could be a multi-format hit.”

Latto’s “Big Energy” spends its second week at No. 1 on the Pop Airplay charts this week. What key decision did you make to help make that happen?

It was all about strategizing within our top 40 promotion department as well as with our programmers about timing. With rhythm/urban crossover records, it’s all about crossing to pop at the right time. We have top 40 program directors who wanted to add the record early, and we tried to hold them off until the time was right. As we were approaching top five at both formats, we then impacted it at pop. Rhythm/urban eventually hit No. 1 and saturated the markets with so much airplay that the callout was so big, it was undeniable at top 40.

Latto now is the first female rapper with a No. 1 on the Pop, Rhythmic and Rap Airplay charts. What’s the significance of that achievement for your team?

This was a huge achievement for my team, but more importantly for RCA in general, where we are breaking a new artist. For Latto to be the first female rapper to do this is an incredible feat, especially when you think of the other A-list female rappers before her.

How did you work the record over the past several months to where it reached such heights at these different formats?

Along with my urban head of promotion partner Sam Selolwane, we built the foundation by working a few of her earlier records to rhythm/urban radio to help build artist awareness. When the radio team all heard “Big Energy,” we knew it would be a big hit. We decided to impact both formats with or without any metrics, just purely off the sound of the song and the massive hook. It worked out pretty well.

How big a role has the remix played in the song’s success?

It’s actually making more of a difference at the Hot AC format. Stations are playing the remix with Mariah much more and we are approaching top 15 there. For top 40, the timing helped a bit as we had morning shows play it as we started to push towards No. 1. It definitely gave the song a nice spike in streams.

More broadly, RCA has been on a huge run of success at Rhythmic Airplay in particular, with songs by SZA, Doja Cat, Latto and Chris Brown taking the top four slots on the chart in March, the first time in a decade a label has held down the top four positions at the same time. What would you attribute to your success at that format?

This may ruffle some feathers, but I can honestly say we have the best heads of rhythm in the business in Kevin Valentini and Lori Giamela. On top of that, you have three core artists at the format along with one of the biggest songs at the format and this is what you get. We knew we had the opportunity to get all of these records to No. 1, but once we saw them line up within the top 10, we had to strategize and make it work. It was precision promotion at its finest.

“Big Energy” has been out for more than six months now. How can a great radio campaign extend the life of a single these days?

Obviously, some songs take longer than others to connect. With streaming, a new artist can drop a song and it has massive metrics immediately, so radio will play it sooner than later. I come from the slow and steady approach. Some of my earlier successes with new artists were six-to-nine-month campaigns where there was a direct correlation between radio audience and streaming. You just have to make sure everyone, from artists to managers to our radio partners, knows the game plan, especially when working with a song that could be a multi-format hit.